First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4Matic Coupe

METZINGEN, Germany – There were only 112 kilometres from our route’s beginning to its end point at Flughafen Stuttgart, and we’d already wasted five of them in the wake of a lumbering cargo van. Fed up with inhaling its sooty stench, I waited for an opening, and mashed the gas pedal. Shot forward as if by rocket launcher, we left our slow-moving nemesis behind – a distant memory in the rear-view mirror. Mercedes’ most powerful mid-size SUV to date, the AMG GLC 63 S blasts to 100 km/h from a standstill in just 3.8 seconds.

Such an impressive performance edition is sure to find fans among those who treasure enormous horsepower, and will be appreciated by drivers who’ll find its handling a pleasant surprise.

It’s rather ridiculous to contemplate a 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) SUV that can accelerate faster than most sports cars. But Mercedes’ first application of their hand-built AMG V8 in a mid-size SUV is underpinned by suspension components borrowed from the C 63 and E 63, and AMG-tuned three-chamber air damping system with three variable settings. Which means it can out-handle many of those sports cars too.

We’d already driven the more pedestrian GLC, and the hotter turbocharged four-cylinder AMG GLC 43 when it was launched last year. While the new AMG GLC 63 is available in traditional SUV flavour, our test was limited to the rake-backed “coupe”. Automakers’ liberal use of the word “coupe” – which used to refer to a two-door vehicle – has become one of the more annoying misnomers in the lexicon. Applied rather coyly at first to sportier sedans, “coupe” can apparently now describe a 4,500-5,000 lb SUV.

The GLC, and its larger GLE Coupe sibling bear more than a passing resemblance to the BMW X6, whose 2008 debut was met with a rather mixed reception. Mercedes-Benz claimed they’d been working on a similar idea nearly a decade earlier, but put it aside to concentrate on their new line of front-wheel-drive entry-level vehicles (at 28 percent of their portfolio, or over one million units sold, they understandably took precedence). Still, despite the X6’s rather polarizing styling, BMW has sold more than 300,000 of them – evidently the bubble-shaped roofline and gigantic cartoonish wheels form an image that resonates with buyers in the explosively popular SUV and crossover market.

And now, for those to whom “too much” is never enough, comes a version with 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. There’s a “base” trim with a paltry 469 hp/479 lb-ft, but we Canadians receive only the more powerful AMG GLC “S” versions.

More than a monster motor

There’s a lot more to creating an AMG variant than simply throwing in an enormous motor. Such variants are redeveloped by Mercedes’ performance branch, with different suspension components, stiffer bushings, a specially tuned version of the air suspension, a limited-slip differential, and a multi-plate clutch for variable torque distribution instead of the regular GLC’s 31 front, 69 rear fixed ratio.

Of course, there are a number of visual cues that separate the AMG GLC 63 from the more mundane variety – most notably, the wide Panamericana grille that debuted with the GT sports car. Underneath that toothy grin is a large splitter and aggressive air intakes. Bigger shoulders and haunches are suggested by the more muscular wheel arches housing 20-inch oversized rims, and the rear diffuser houses twin rectangular exhaust tips. Optional are 21-inch rims, AMG performance exhaust, carbon-ceramic brakes. Night Package adds contrasting gloss black inserts, trim, roof rails and matte black exhaust tips, and the Exterior Carbon Fibre Package dresses up the mirror caps and spoiler lip.

The cabin is pretty much the same as the regular GLC, but distinguished by more highly bolstered sports seats embossed with AMG badging. The flat-bottomed wheel is Alcantara-wrapped for improved grip, and the leather and microfibre upholstery is trimmed with contrasting stitching. A Designo Studio interior package adds black Artico leather on the dash, two-tone perforated Nappa leather seating, designo Nappa leather with diamond-design stitching and aluminum and carbon-fibre trim.

It’s a comfortable environment with seats that provide plenty of support during hard cornering, yet remain supple for long highway driving. The bisecting centre console, in this case finished with carbon fibre, houses either a 7-inch standard or 8.4-inch optional display. Also available is a high-resolution, full-colour head-up display, premium Burmester sound system, and rear roller blinds. Notably absent are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s no difference, space-wise, from the regular GLC: cargo is 500 L and 1,400 L with the seats folded in the Coupe, and 550/1,600 in the SUV.

Driving manners ready for track day

Our drive route incorporated some of Germany’s infamous Autobahn, some lovely, winding stretches through forested hills, and the excruciatingly narrow passages through tiny red-roofed villages. Left in “Comfort”, the AMG GLC 63 S is compliant enough for all-day driving – comfortable without wallowing, and quiet enough to keep the neighbours happy. Switching to “Sport” and “Sport+” changes the shift, steering, and suspension parameters so you’re ready to tackle the iconic Schwarzwaldhochstrasse that runs along the crest of the Baden-Baden mountains. There’s a “race” setting for track days – if you’re going to be “that guy” who brings an SUV to a race day; and “Individual” lets you mix and match steering, suspension and shift settings.

For the most part we left it in “Sport+”, enjoying the taut chassis as we pushed the car hard into the corners without any rebound upon exit. Despite the light rain, the GLC has admirable grip, largely due to the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and the electronically controlled limited slip differential (non “S” models receive a mechanical LSD). The extra outside torque distribution while cornering no doubt adds to the tight radius and sharp turn-in.

The brakes bite good and hard, and the overall composure of the AMG GLC 63 S inspires confidence. We would have liked more steering feedback though – the electro-mechanical rack and pinion is sharp and accurate but it would be nice to feel a little bit more of the road.

The nine-speed multi-clutch transmission (MCT) shifts with competent precision, and the pop and crackle of the exhaust on downshift is intoxicating. As good as some of the new turbo fours and twin-turbo sixes are, there’s just no mistaking the sound of a big V8 in full song.

There’s no electronic enhancement of that glorious burble either; it’s all the work of engine combustion and exhaust tubing.

No one buys a bi-turbo V8 and expects to get great fuel economy, but the projected numbers are better than expected: 14.1 L/100 km city, 8.7 L/100 km highway, and 10.7 combined. I’ve driven sports cars that do a lot worse.

The regular GLC has done well, and by summer of this year had nearly doubled its debut year sales. Such an impressive performance edition is sure to find fans among those who treasure enormous horsepower, and will be appreciated by drivers who’ll find its handling a pleasant surprise. But it will be up against some tough new competitors: in addition to the Porsche Macan Turbo S and BMW X3 M40i, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Jaguar E Pace will soon join the mix – and their exotic novelty could work to their advantage. However, the AMG GLC 63 S holds the title of most powerful mid-size SUV on the market. For now.

The Mercedes Benz AMG GLC 63 is scheduled to arrive in dealerships early next summer. While prices are not yet available, we expect the prices for the SUV and Coupe S to roughly approximate that of the C63 sedan and C63 S coupe.

Affalterbach’s powerful bi-turbo V8 now powers mid-size SUV. 11/13/2017 6:24:00 AM